Mindy Kaling, 43, on reading mean reviews about her appearance: ‘I didn't know I was so unattractive until I was the star of my own show’

·6 min read

Mindy Kaling’s life has come full circle.

The groundbreaking writer, actor and producer, 43, is opening up about how she still deals with grief following the death of her mother and how parenting two kids on her own has given her a new perspective on work-life balance.

While speaking to Marie Claire on a range of topics — motherhood, mental health, her successful career — for its "Wellness Issue," Kaling discussed the experience of losing her mother to pancreatic cancer in 2012, and recalled trying to mask the emotional turmoil by “working 14, 16, hours a day.”

Mindy Kaling in a green dress lounging in the sand. (Photo: Kanya Iwana for Marie Claire)
Mindy Kaling opens up about motherhood for Marie Claire. (Photo: Kanya Iwana for Marie Claire)

“I can only describe it as just anguish for two years,” she said of that time. It ultimately became too much to bear on her own, which is why she decided to seek the help of a therapist — though, admittedly, it required her to unlearn cultural biases from her South Asian upbringing.

“If someone you knew or someone in your family or extended family was seeing a therapist or seeing a psychologist or going on medication or anything like that, it was seen as a real problem, a real sadness [or] tragedy for a family,” she explained. “That's just the way that I was raised — [like] the other Indian people around me… [Families] try to deal with it through closed doors and certainly not by asking someone outside of your family or outside of the community for help with that.”

“I don't want my kids to grow up that way. And I don't wanna be that way for myself,” she said of breaking the cycle. “Ultimately, it's about efficiency. I think you can get things done more if you're able to talk to the right people about the things going on in your life. I remember thinking, This is extremely helpful, but this would have even been helpful when I was younger, when I had issues.

“Life is so hard,” she added. “And I don't think you should just have to depend on friends and family to get you through those things.”

Therapy, she says, has also helped her understand where her priorities should lie, as a single mother of two children: Katherine, 4, and Spencer, 1.

“I think in my twenties I was only focused on, Okay, I don't want to get fired. I want to be successful, and I was only thinking about myself,” she said. “In no way was I thinking about things that are the most important to me now, which is my health, holding the door open behind me for other people… I kind of lived a way more selfish existence, which is also boring… [Now] I'm surrounded by so many more people. My immediate family, obviously, with my children, but also this community of young women on my show.”

Mindy Kaling poses with palm fronds
Mindy Kaling gets personal in the latest Marie Claire. (Photo: Kanya Iwana for Marie Claire)

When reflecting on her choice to have kids on her own in her late-thirties, the Never Have I Ever producer said that it was one of the smartest — and most mature — decisions she’s made in her life.

“I waited until I had the means and that made all the difference,” she explained of motherhood. “The choice to have a child — by yourself, on your own terms — it was the best part of my life… It's the thing that I hope women feel confident doing by themselves.”

“I wish every 19-year-old girl would come home from college and that the gift — instead of buying them jewelry or a vacation or whatever — is that their parents would take them to freeze their eggs,” she later advised. “They could do that once and have all these eggs for them, for their futures… to focus in your twenties and thirties on your career, and yes, love, but to know that when you're emotionally ready, and, if you don't have a partner, you can still have children.”

Mindy Kaling at the edge of the ocean
Mindy Kaling in Marie Claire. (Photo: Kanya Iwana for Marie Claire)

The showrunner’s passion to empower women in her writing — especially Indian women — is evident in her list of projects, which also includes HBO’s The Sex Lives of College Girls. Being able to do that, she explains, is a blessing.

“When I write shows about Indian women and what they're interested in, I want to do something original, but I also don't want to shy away from things that I've seen before: obsession with success; elitism about schools,” she explained. “Those are things that were real in my family, and I've been dealing with that. But also what's really important was destigmatizing mental health.”

Taking on a more behind-the-scenes role has also revealed some ugly truths about her place in Hollywood.

“The amount of articles that were like, ‘It's so good for a culture that this unattractive woman is finally on camera,’” she said of reading old reviews for her hit show The Mindy Project. “I didn't know I was so unattractive until I was the star of my own show. So not having to see those things [now], that's wonderful.”

Still, nowadays Kaling is equipped with a newfound confidence and isn’t letting any of the haters bring her down. She’s worked too hard for that.

“After being so unhappy in my teenage years and in my 20s … I feel so content now,” she explained. “I am so happy with my career. I love my family. I love my freedom — I have the freedom that comes with being financially stable, and I don't have to run anything by anybody.”

“I love going to set and watching these actors saying my words and coming up to me and asking my take on things,” she said of her work on Never Have I Ever. “It’s beyond the wildest dreams that my late-mother could have hoped for me.”

Kaling has opened up in the past about her parenting journey. In an interview with Yahoo Life in January, the writer spoke about the timing of having children — and why it was important to do it right.

“I [didn’t] want to wake up and just never be able to [have kids], because more than writing and creating shows, my great dream in life was to become a mom, because of my relationship with my mom,” she said at the time. “I had some professional things that I'd been hoping for not come through or had been delayed. And I just thought like, ‘What am I doing? Like, I just gotta have a kid.’”

Now, she explained, parenthood makes her “treasure the time that I see my adult friends.”

“I feel like I enjoy it so much more because of the scarcity,” she said. “And as most busy working parents will tell you, it's made me cut out all the people that are just not important … Like, I can't keep up with so many of those relationships anymore. It's just not going to happen.”

Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.